Archive for July, 2011

Posted on July 29, 2011 - by

FRESH Ideas for a Sustainable Baby

Photo: Sasha with her big sister Maayan

There’s a new member of the FRESH team! FRESH Director, Ana Sofia Joanes, just welcomed Alexandra Lise (aka Sasha) to her family. On this joyful occasion, since so many children’s products are laden with harmful ingredients, we thought we’d share some healthy and sustainable products for babies.

Cloth and/or Bleach-Free Diapers: Save money and protect the environment by using cloth diapers. An average child will use approximately 6,000 diapers before toilet training. The fact that disposable diapers take several hundred years to decompose is a compelling reason to choose reusable diapers. And, for additional motivation, you’ll save about $1,200 compared to disposable diapers, even more if you reuse the cloth diapers for several children. If that’s not for you, or for times when you need the convenience of throw-away diapers, be sure to get chlorine-free diapers. Chlorine-free diapers will protect your baby’s sensitive skin from toxins and reduce diaper rash.

Glass or Stainless Steel Bottles: Pick glass or steel baby bottles and sippy cups instead of plastic. Plastic bottles may leach bisphenol-A (BPA), a hormone-disrupting chemical that has been linked to serious damage to human health. Many alternatives to BPA are being tested for safety, but it’s hard to say if these are truly better. So, cut to the chase and avoid plastic altogether. In addition, if you’re using formula, buy powdered instead of canned formula to avoid BPA.

Toys: Skip petroleum-based plastics made with toxic chemicals (especially for young babies who still put everything in their mouths) and go for old-fashioned wooden and organic cloth toys. Avoid painted toys as well, since the paint can contain harmful substances.

Second-Hand Clothes and Toys: Kids outgrow their clothing and toys quickly, so look for second-hand outfits and toys from friends or thrift stores. You’ll save lots of money, and there’s no better way to protect the environment than to avoid buying new. When buying new, choose organic cotton whenever possible, since cotton is one of the most chemical-intensive plants grown.

Shampoos, Lotions and Personal Care Products: Children’s skin is 30% thinner than adults, so they absorb higher amounts of chemicals at the surface. Many personal care products contain ingredients that haven’t been tested for safety for kids, or at all, so choose products carefully for young skin. Browse the Environmental Working Group’s database for the best personal care products for children.

Did you find these tips useful? Do you have additional ideas on great sustainable gifts? Leave us a comment below!


Posted on July 21, 2011 - by

Smart Phones Helping Us Make Smart Seafood Decisions

Today’s guest blog post is brought to you by FishWise, a non-profit sustainable seafood consultancy that helps seafood businesses improve the sustainability of their seafood offerings.

Let’s face it–choosing sustainable seafood can be difficult. The sustainability of a particular species depends not only on the inherent vulnerability of the species itself, but also on where and how it was caught.

To figure this out, there are apps that place extensive information at our fingertips and conveniently guide our responsible seafood choices. Nowadays, living in a wireless world, the Seafood Watch app for iPhone and Android has replaced the Seafood Watch card in our wallet provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The Blue Ocean Institute also has its FishPhone app in addition to their printed guides.

For some consumers, knowing the location and method of catch is not enough! They want to be able to trace their fish back to the source. Some of you can visit local fish markets that generally work very closely with the fishermen themselves, however, most seafood buyers rely on their local grocery store for their seafood needs. Even for experts who work in the seafood industry, tracing seafood back to the source is challenging since the seafood supply chain can be extremely complex.

To go one step further, there are now companies who allow consumers to go online and trace the product back to the source by entering a code on the package in their hands.

Partnering with Trace Register™ – the global food traceability company, Kwik’pak Fisheries has developed a tool that allows consumers to trace their Yukon River Salmon back to the source. We can go to their “Trace Your Fish” web page and enter this example code: 103104. We are then presented with information about the product’s nutritional value, the name of the Yupik fishermen who caught it, how they caught and processed the fish, a map showing the catch location and even healthy recipes to try out.

Some Northern Chef farmed raised shrimp carried by Tai Foong are yellow ranked by the Monterey Bay as well as being traceable. Try this code: 877971002797 and enter it in their Dine Well Shrimp page where we can learn the details about their aquaculture practices, their shrimp quality, and their location in Thailand on the map.

These companies are at the frontier of traceability and others are guaranteed to follow suit, which is great news for consumers like you. The more information you have at your fingertips when choosing seafood, the better the choices you can make for yourself and the environment.

FishWise is a non-profit sustainable seafood consultancy that helps seafood businesses improve the sustainability of their seafood offerings through environmentally responsible business practices, such as policy development, employee training, sourcing assistance and point of sale information. This approach empowers consumer to make environmentally informed choices when purchasing seafood.

To learn more about sustainable seafood, visit or sign up for their mailing list.


Posted on July 20, 2011 - by

How to Be a Salmon Savvy Gourmet

Photo: Karen Miller/Creative Commons

Today’s guest post is courtesy of Ana Simeon from Sierra Club BC and Seachoice.

Figuring out the right salmon to eat is maybe the biggest challenge when it comes to sustainable seafood. There are Pacific and Atlantic, farmed and wild. Then there are all the individual species – sockeye, chinook, coho, chum, and pink – which further divide into “runs,” populations that spawn in the same stream. To complicate matters even further, not all farmed salmon was created equal – there is “open net” and “closed containment”, with very different ecological impacts. If all this makes your head spin, worry not! Follow our Salmon Ladder, an easy step-by-step process to help you navigate the diversity of salmon on the market and the conflicting claims of suppliers. The Salmon Ladder is based on Seachoice’s science-based ranking system developed in collaboration with the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Meet the Hero: Pacific Salmon

These fish are absolutely amazing and more than worth the effort to get to know, even if they weren’t such a healthy and delicious seafood treat. Salmon are a creature of contrast: they spend most of their lives in the ocean, yet they play a key role in the ecology of the coastal forest. They are delicious and full of heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids which sustains bald eagle populations, allows bears to fatten up for the winter, and provides up to half the nitrogen needed by the giant trees of the coastal rainforests. Thanks to instinctual abilities that are still not fully understood, each individual fish comes back to its native stream to spawn. This means that each river and stream has its own genetically distinct population or “run.” This genetic diversity is part of what makes wild salmon such amazing survival artists.

Meet the Villain: Salmon Farms in the Ocean

If you look at a map of the West Coast from Alaska to California, you will see hundreds of sheltered bays and inlets. This is where young salmon fry like to hang out and fatten up before swimming out into the open ocean. Unfortunately, these same bays and inlets are dotted with hundreds of giant salmon feedlots.

Imagine tens of thousands of fish held in net pens in the ocean. Because of overcrowding, they are swarming with parasites and disease and require constant application of chemicals. Wild salmon fry on their migration routes have to run the gauntlet of these farms and are no match for such an assault of parasites, particularly the notorious sea louse. As has been repeatedly demonstrated by research from scientists around the world, sea lice from fish farms are a key factor in killing off young fry. This process has already wiped out the plentiful salmon runs of Scotland, Ireland, Norway and other northern European counties. It will happen in North America, too, unless we, as consumers, stand up for wild salmon by boycotting open-net farmed salmon and demanding sustainable industry practices.

Farms Belong on Land

This doesn’t mean we must abandon the idea of salmon farming altogether. Impact on wild fish can be eliminated by keeping the farms on land, like any freshwater aquaculture. This is called closed-containment technology and has been successfully pioneered in Washington State. Look for the SweetSpring brand freshwater Coho, grown and harvested at a land-based closed containment salmon farm. SweetSpring Salmon is rated a SeaChoice “Best Choice.”

Large salmon farming conglomerates don’t like the idea of closed containment because they would rather have the ocean perform the service of cleaning and aerating the pens for free. This is where you and I come in with our magic cloak: customer power. Please vote with your wallet and tell your friends – withholding your dollar is the kind of feedback that ultimately the industry will not be able to ignore.

The Salmon Ladder

Step 1: If a fish is labelled “Farmed Salmon” or “Atlantic salmon,” leave it alone. Atlantic salmon has been fished practically to extinction in the wild so any Atlantic salmon sold commercially comes from open-net feedlots. The fish raised in closed containment are Pacific coho, not Atlantic.

Step 2: Choose “Farmed Salmon – Closed Containment” if you’re in a rush and don’t have time to investigate various wild salmon options. This is an ocean-friendly, sustainable choice.

Step 3: With wild salmon, play detective. Your efforts will be amply rewarded by the unbeatably delicious taste. Ask your server where your salmon was caught, then consult your SeaChoice guide or iPhone app for the most up-to-date rankings. The rankings can be different from fishery to fishery, and from species to species, depending on how they were caught and where.

Download Additional Resources:

Wait there’s more! Our wild Alaskan salmon are under threat: To learn more about how to protect one of our most valuable sustainable fisheries, check out the FRESH campaign to halt the construction of Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay. We are pressuring the EPA to protect this sensitive watershed, rather than supporting corporate interests.

Ana Simeon works as communications coordinator and grassroots organizer for Sierra Club BC and Seachoice, a coalition of five internationally respected Canadian conservation organizations working to shift the market to sustainable seafood. Ana also writes for BC print and online media on environmental topics. Providing social media and online content for Seachoice taps into her passion for local food, food security and all things culinary.

Ana enjoys hiking, bird-watching, and grows a sizeable vegetable garden with her husband Tom. On cold, rainy days, she keeps to her fireside with a book from her extensive collection of 1930 British detective fiction.


Posted on July 18, 2011 - by

Food from Small Places: How to grow food without a garden plot

One summer afternoon when I was four, I uprooted every single carrot in my mother’sgarden. After she’d found the trail of interrupted young vegetables and cornered me, I solemnly announced that the naughty bunnies had done it. It was true that my rampage was spurred partly by mischief. But another part of me was simply astonished to discover, again and again, the slender finger of orange hidden beneath green feathered shoots.

Getting into dirt-related trouble is a luxury that few of us, children and adults, have anymore. In our rapidly urbanizing and commerce-oriented world, growing our own food feels like an increasingly distant and daunting task. Farmers markets and community gardens are finding ways to bring local produce and agriculture to the city, but it’s rare that urban dwellers have the land for their own garden plots.                         Photo:

The good news is that limited space is no excuse for keeping your hands out of the soil. Planting vegetables and herbs in moveable containers provides a solution to the limitations of land, time, or poor soil. Potting vegetables and herbs is a simple way to feed your appetite for fresh produce and add life to a patio, porch, or even a fire escape.

Best of all, growing food in pots is quite easy. All you need are containers with drainage holes, a good soil mix, fertilizer, light, water, and the right plant varieties. Here are a few tips to get your garden growing.

Vegetable Varieties

What you can grow depends on the size of your containers, the amount of sunlight that reaches the plants, and the season you plant in. Leafy vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage, spinach, and radishes are the best bet if you’re working with shallow containers and shadier areas. Give them at least a six-inch wide pot with eight inches of soil depth. Vegetables grown for their fruits, like peppers, tomatoes, squashes, cucumbers, broccoli, and eggplants need more light— six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day—and, in general, more room to grow. Spacing requirements can usually be found on the seed packet or plant tag. If you’re planting seeds, remember to plant more than you’ll need in each container in case some don’t sprout. You can thin crowded young plants later.

Plants with a rapid maturation period are ideal if you’re starting late in the summer, or in  order to get several crops from a container. Herbs, small salad greens like oak leaf lettuce and mustard cress, silver beets, radishes, and cherry tomatoes are all quick-growing options. Using vegetable starts instead of seeds shortens the planting to harvest timeline.

Choosing a Vessel

A vegetable container has two basic requirements: holes to allow for adequate drainage and a size large enough to support the mature crop,meaning at least eight inches deep. Clay pots, cement blocks, milk cartons, dish pans, and tin cans all work well for small plants. Larger ceramic pots, half barrels, garbage cans, bushel baskets, and redwood or cedar boxes will house vegetables that require more room. Use potting as an opportunity to be creative and recycle!

Soil, Fertilizer, and Water

Use a lightweight, porous potting soil so that air and nutrients can circulate to the root system.  Nurseries and garden centers offer mixes that usually contain peat moss, organic material, sand, and pumice or perlite. Mixing compost or aged manure into commercial soil will give your plants a boost.

Potted vegetables generally require more water than those grown in the ground. Most vegetables and herbs prefer that the soil remain slightly moist. When the soil feels dry to the touch about one or two inches below the surface, it’s usually time to water. You can use an organic liquid or soluble fertilizer every two to four weeks to replenish micronutrients in the soil.

The Harvest

In just a few weeks, you’ll be able to gather bowlfuls of salad or vegetables to grill just by stepping out onto your balcony or deck. You won’t have to worry about unused produce rotting in the refrigerator or about whether you remembered to buy the fresh herb a recipe called for. You’ll be eating locally and organically. And, I hope, you’ll take pleasure in finding space for a bit of dirt in your life.



Posted on July 7, 2011 - by

Cultivating Infection: the dangers of antibiotic overuse on animal farms

Antibiotics revolutionized healthcare when they were introduced in 1946. Now, overuse in industrial feedlots may make them obsolete.

Since 1976, studies have repeatedly demonstrated a connection between dosing healthy livestock with low-level antibiotics and the development of drug resistant bacteria. These “superbugs” cause infections that are nearly impossible to treat. In spite of mounting evidence that antibiotic use in livestock constitutes a serious threat to human health, the FDA continues to shy away from regulating the use of antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes due to pressure from agricultural and pharmaceutical industry interests.

There’s only one way to prevent factory farms from abusing antibiotics in livestock. Tell Congress to pass the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act.

Drug Stuffing

According to the FDA, 80 percent of antibiotics used in the United States are administered to animals, not humans. In fact, more antibiotics are used on animals in the state of North Carolina than on humans in the entire United States.  In 2009, 29.8 million pounds of antibiotics were pumped into livestock across the country.

In most cases, those vast quantities of antibiotics aren’t given to sick animals. They’re administered preventatively in feed and water at sub-therapeutic levels to help livestock grow faster, and to keep disease from spreading through overcrowded feedlots. Young cattle are fed antibiotics to control the health problems caused by corn-based diets. Piglets are drugged to compensate for early weaning.

Feeding drugs to livestock has been routine practice in agribusiness since the FDA legalized the use of low-dose antibiotics in the 1950s. Antibiotics make it possible to raise animals in unsanitary conditions and with poor nutrition—in other words, they enable the system that brings us cheap food. But the hidden costs are rising.

Farming Superbugs

Feedlots are an ideal breeding ground for resistant microorganisms. Bacteria mutate rapidly, and adapt quickly. Exposing bacteria to non-lethal doses of antibiotics gives microorganisms the opportunity to develop genetic resistance, which protects them from even high doses of the drugs. By feeding animals antibiotics we are facilitating the development of resilient new pathogens.

These superbugs can then be passed from livestock to humans. Farmers are particularly susceptible to infection, but even people who never come into contact with a live pig or a chicken are at risk. Antibiotic resistant bacteria are found in the air and soil around farms, and in meat and produce in grocery stores. A recent study from the Netherlands published in the CDC journal Emerging Infectious Diseases found the same strain of drug-resistant E. coli in chickens, chicken meat, and humans, leading the researchers to suggest that resistant bacteria were passed to humans who ate infected poultry. A previous study supported their conclusion.

Antibiotic resistant bacteria can spread to vegetables when feces from infected animals leech into surface and groundwater or are used to fertilize produce. The recent lethal E. coli outbreaks in Europe, which killed over 40 people, were caused by tainted bean sprouts.

Hog farms have also come under scrutiny, thanks to studies showing a high prevalence of a strain of MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) in employees and pigs on hog farms. In the United States, more people die from MRSA each year than from AIDS, although the hog barn variant is one of MRSA’s more benign forms.

What to Do?

While a more rigorous food and farm inspection system and proper handling of raw meats and vegetables can diminish some of the threat from contaminated food, the best way to slow the development of superbugs is to halt the prophylactic use of antibiotics. Medical professionals recognize the dangers of over-prescribing antibiotics in humans. Why don’t the agricultural and pharmaceutical industries, which lobby hard against any effort to regulate the use of antibiotics in livestock?

With such a huge percentage of the demand for antibiotics created by agribusiness, drug companies have an obvious incentive to promote overuse. And it’s easy for Big Ag to claim that the dense, high-volume feedlots that keep the costs of meat down would be impossible to maintain without antibiotics. But experience shows that antibiotics might not be necessary to produce affordable meat.

The European Union banned the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock in 2006, and some countries are already reporting a decline in antibiotic resistant bacteria. Meat prices, however, haven’t risen. In Denmark, the world’s largest pork exporter, pigs are kept in similar conditions as those in American hog farms. Danish hog farmers have made a few modifications to feed and housing density to account for a 37 percent decrease in overall antibiotic use between 1994 and 2009, but production levels have remained consistent.

With 325,000 Americans hospitalized from food borne illness and 70,00 dying from antibiotic resistant infections each year, it’s time to reconsider our reckless use of precious medicines. In May, a group including the Union of Concerned Scientists, the National Resources Defense Council, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Animals Concern Trust and Public Citizen, filed a lawsuit in an attempt to force the government to prevent the routine addition of antibiotics to animal feed. And a new piece of legislation, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), is gathering steam in Congress.

Louise Slaughter, a Democrat from New York who holds degrees in microbiology and public health, introduced the bill. PAMTA would force the FDA to reconsider its approval of the use of seven classes of antibiotics in livestock in light of the dangers of resistance within two years of enactment. The bill is supported by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Public Health Association, among others. It is opposed by the National Pork Producers Council.

You can help to limit the dangerous overuse of antibiotics by asking Congress to support the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act. The more we use antibiotics, the less effective they become. Sacrificing the power of our medicines for the sake of maintaining the cruel living conditions of American livestock isn’t a worthwhile trade. Our food should make us healthy, not weak.


Posted on July 6, 2011 - by

Community Supported Fisheries: Changing the Way You Buy Seafood

Today’s guest blog post is brought to you by FishWise, a non-profit sustainable seafood consultancy that helps seafood businesses improve the sustainability of their seafood offerings.

Land-based farmers have been doing it for years—collecting cash up front from customers at the beginning of the season and offering a consistent supply of fresh, high quality fruits, vegetables and other goods in return. And now, at a time when over 85% of American seafood is imported, U.S. fishermen are also getting on board, so to speak, and offering seasonal seafood to the local community.

This type of arrangement, whereby fishermen sell their product direct to the consumer, is known as a “community supported fishery” (CSF) and they have blossomed on the East coast, particularly North Carolina, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. Now CSFs are slowly but steadily establishing themselves around the rest of the country.

With the influx of cheaper and often less sustainable seafood imports (some types of farmed shrimp, farmed Atlantic salmon and some tuna species), U.S. fisherman are working hard to establish ways to earn a maximum return for their catch. With a CSF program, fishers get a much-needed cash injection at the beginning of the season when they need it most and can increase their share of the profits by selling directly to local customers. Also, when fishermen can earn more for their catch, they fish less aggressively which can mean less impact on the local environment and safer conditions for fishermen.

Just as importantly, you as the customer get the opportunity to learn about new fish species that you may not normally purchase, come to appreciate the seasonality of seafood, and help support local fishers and families, many of whom have been fishing for generations.

If you are interested in learning more, The North Atlantic Marine Alliance has put together a list of community supported fisheries around the country from San Luis Obispo, California to Port Clyde, New England – check it out!

FishWise is a non-profit sustainable seafood consultancy that helps seafood businesses improve the sustainability of their seafood offerings through environmentally responsible business practices, such as policy development, employee training, sourcing assistance and point of sale information. This approach empowers consumer to make environmentally informed choices when purchasing seafood.

To learn more about sustainable seafood, visit or sign up for their mailing list.


Posted on July 5, 2011 - by

A FRESH Voice: Introducing Zoë Carpenter

Photo: S. Young

We’re happy to introduce you to Zoë Carpenter, a new writer for our blog. Here are some of her thoughts on food and food systems.

My relationship with food is more of an inheritance than an interest. My mother raised me in her garden, a jungly patchwork of vegetables, berries, and flowers carved out of the Oregon rainforest where we lived. My first intelligible word was “radish.” I fancied myself a baker by the time I was seven, and put on elaborate tea-parties for a loyal clientele of teddy bears and dolls, serving cakes made from my own secret recipes. I learned quickly that baking soda is a thing best used in moderation.

It wasn’t until I went further afield that I started thinking about the politics bound  with agriculture and eating. I studied public health in India, China, and South Africa, and was surprised to notice how great a role the food system played in health and development trends. In my research on HIV transmission pathways, I found that changing climate patterns, food imports, and the failure of Green Revolution technologies had made life nearly impossible for small farmers in rural parts of southern India. This spurred massive seasonal migration to urban centers, journeys that drove infectious disease across vast distances. Through my travels, I came to understand that dysfunctional food systems make for a weak society, just as poor nutrition makes for a sick body.

Last summer I explored the pleasurable aspects of food as a WWOOFer in Italy and Ireland. I weeded and planted, battled nettles and whitewashed a barn, capped hundreds of bottles of fresh juice, and ate my fair share of gorgonzola and gelato. More often than not, I spent the evenings scrubbing a sticky mix of sugar, pollen, and dirt from my neck and arms.

I saw FRESH for the first time last winter, in an old grocery building in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. The building was home to an urban gardening project and alternative school that I was writing about in my senior thesis. Just a few garden beds and a handful of activists were starting to repair broken links in our education, economic, social and environmental systems. It convinced me that creative ways of thinking about food—growing it, distributing it, eating it—have an enormous capacity to effect change.

I’ve been writing for almost as long as I’ve been gardening, and I’m looking forward to joining the discussion of more sustainable and just ways of growing and eating as a FRESH blogger. I’ll be doing so from Portland, Oregon, where I’ll also be planting radishes. Please leave your thoughts and questions in the comments section, or email me at